Never knowingly undersolved.

Guardian Genius No. 102 / Qaos

Posted by Gaufrid on January 1st, 2012


The preamble told us that “Each solution contains a two-letter symbol for a chemical element, which needs to be transmuted into another before it is entered in the grid. Each transmutation changes both letters, producing a new valid word.” so my A-level in chemistry might come in useful. For those who did not study this subject at school there was always the list of chemical elements at the back of Chambers (or elsewhere).

I made steady progress and completed three quarters of the grid in less than an hour but then the SW corner took twice as long again for several reasons. I was thrown by the enumeration in 20ac which referred to the grid entry rather than the answer. I didn’t associate the second definition in 21dn (fighters) with the required answer (axemen) since I don’t think the two are synonyms. Finally, at that stage I still hadn’t solved 14ac to give me the first letter of 15dn.

Talking of 14ac, I wasn’t happy with ‘starts to’ to indicate the initial letter of ‘rebuke’ since I spent quite some time trying to think of a word that ended in RE. It also took me a while to remember the former Tory MP Edwina Currie, though perhaps it shouldn’t have done as she cropped up in a puzzle I blogged a few months ago.

7dn was definitely unfair in a prize puzzle in that there were two possible grid entries, SCRIBE and SCRINE. I hope that both are deemed correct when selecting the winner from the submitted solutions.

For me this would have been a more enjoyable puzzle if I hadn’t spent so long completing the SW corner. As it is, I have scratches all over my head! I think more people than usual will have given up before completing this puzzle so it will be interesting to see how many correct entries were submitted.

Grid entries are in bold.

homophone (delivered) of ‘course’ (series of lectures) : def. ‘rough’
ELI (priest) in [f]RANCE (country without force) : def. ‘faith’
CO (company) ACTING (performance) : def. ‘working together’
anagram (computing) of IT REAL : def. ‘sell’
anagram (dissolves) of USSR + I (one) A : def. ‘federation’
MILL (factory) I BAR (shut) : def. ‘pressure unit’
CURRIE (former Tory MP) R[ebuke] (starts to rebuke) : def, ‘leather worker’
BIG (gracious) homophone (on the radio) of ‘thyme’ (herb) : def. ‘entertainment success’
double def.
GAG (joke) around PIN (leg) : def. ‘wide open’
25 LAGGER RUGGER REAL (foreign money) reversed (returned) around GG (horse) : def. ‘trailer’
TIRELESS (hard working) with M (maiden) replacing R (royal) : def. ‘unchanged’
anagram (collapses) of TO DREAM + E (direction) : def. ‘medium’
L (student) anagram (exercises) of THEIR : def. ‘more supple’
[r]OVER (run away from dog) in CAGE (pound) : def: ‘news’
ON (working) in CRES[s] (plant get Sunday off) : def. ‘old women’
HE (man) BE (is) T (cross) ATE (Greek goddess) : def. ‘dull’
WART (bump) I’M (I am) E[xpect] (starting to expect) : def. ‘period of conflict’
FL (state {Florida}) anagram (smelts) of IRON : def. ‘coin’
[u]RCHIN (guttersnipe loses top) in BIG (serious) : def. ‘flogging’
anagram (over) of C[rosby] TRIPS : def. ‘lines’
AS (while) SIGNED (hired) : def. ‘charged’
double def.
MAG (publication) IS T[h]E[o]R[y] (regularly theory) : def. ‘Latin teacher’
PONDER (to think) around U[niverse] (universe’s origin) : def. ‘muller’
double def.
BAR (don’t let) NAM (war) reversed (rise up) : def. ‘one who serves shots’
PI (good) TAR reversed (upstanding sailor) [hon]E[sty] (soul of honesty) : def. ’not this one’

15 Responses to “Guardian Genius No. 102 / Qaos”

  1. Mr Beaver says:

    Thanks for the blog, Gaufrid. I was one who gave up on this, though it was more to do with having other things on than intrinsic difficulty. I got bogged down in the SW corner too, though I didn’t have a problem with AXEMAN.
    For some reason, the penny didn’t drop with 17d – couldn’t get ‘blooming’ out of my mind – then in juggling the various possibilities with the crossing words I became convinced (wrongly) that I’d made a mistake elsewhere.

    I notice the blurb said any valid entries would be credited, though I must say SCRINE (what that?) never occurred to me for a moment for 7d.

    I liked the overall theme though and wish I’d persisted a bit longer

  2. Jan says:

    Well done, Gaufrid (and Happy New Year). The following has appeared above the Genius crossword on the G website.

    Special instructions: (Note added 8 December) It has been pointed out that there is more than one possible mutation in some of the clues. In these cases alternative solutions will be accepted as legitimate in prize entries

    I solved one clue and then decided that this was not a puzzle I would enjoy so there was no entry from me.

  3. PeterM says:

    Another alternative is BATCHING at 6dn, and possibly FERRIER at 14ac, if proper names are OK.

  4. Gordon says:

    Hi Gaufrid

    Thanks for the blog. I did finish it, but as with you the SW corner caused me difficulties, particularly 20a and 14a for the same reasons you gave. I also agree that an AXEMAN is not a fighter – I cannot find that definition anywhere; all I can find is someone who cuts down trees [apart from the US slang of an instrument player – not even restricted to guitarists.] What is the ? supposed to add to the clue either? – anyone know? As far as I can see this is not even a cryptic double definition clue as the use of ‘or’ in the clue makes it a simple non-cryptic definition.
    What annoyed me most was that I did not see the correction to the Special Instructions as Jan mentions above, until last night when I entered the puzzle [I always like to be last!]. By that time I had identified 4 clues where there were more than one solution. The three already mentioned and 28a NOTHER, which is in my very old Chambers as a Scottish alternative for ANOTHER.

    I spent a ridiculous amount of time in the last week trying to see whether I could make sense of any connection between chemical symbols used and those transmuted, such as somehow pairing them off so that if we transmuted away from two COs then we had to transmute to 2 of these also. I tried dozens of different ideas, wasting loads of time.

    Surely one of the jobs of the Guardian crossword editor is to check that a puzzle provides unique answers?

    I think that QAOS – who is a new compiler I believe – did a very clever job, but as Gaufrid states the clues were not that great and QAOS should have been able to spot that there were multiple ‘double’ solutions possible.

    I wonder if there were more than four?

    Best wishes for 2012


  5. bridgesong says:

    I am another who gave up without finishing this puzzle. There just seemed to be too many possible permutations.
    Shouldn’t 13 down be MILLINER?

  6. Gaufrid says:

    Hi Jan
    Thanks for the info. I haven’t been back to the on-line puzzle since the morning it first appeared.

    Hi bridgesong
    Thanks, typo corrected.

    Hi Gordon
    It will indeed be interesting to see, when the solution is published, how many alternatives were acceptable. Having found 7dn I had intended to revisit the remaining clues to see if the same applied elsewhere but somehow by the time I had finished my blog I forgot.

  7. Gordon says:

    Hi Gaufrid

    I forgot to add that I was concerned that there may also be duplication caused by QAOS being unaware of the latest additions to the Periodic Table; or maybe even that some of these new elements were named after the crossword had been agreed for publication.
    Unlike you, I did not do ‘A Level’ Chemistry, but I did study Nuclear Physics at Liverpool University, where they had a co-operative venture with CERN. I was, and still am, well aware of the bizarre development of ever-more fleeting traces of ‘new’ elements, so was cautious of whether these might be in or not.
    Anyhow,the threee in November added were Darmstadtium, Roentgenium and Copernicium [Ds, Rg and Cn].
    In December we also had Flerovium and Livermorium [Fl and Lv] added.
    I have to say the only one that I thought might cause a problem was Flevorium with the Fl, but I suppose as it was not named until after the crossword was issued it would not be accepted? Interesting point.
    Sorry to go on, but I’m sat here bored as it is late afternoon here in the USA with absolutely nothing happening!
    Best wishes


  8. Mr Beaver says:

    The online list of chemical elements I used still had ‘Uux’ names for the more recent additions (‘Ununbium’ etc) – as these were 3 letters rather than 2, I ignored them – but I had a vague thought that they might have been given proper names since!

  9. Gordon says:

    I see only Batching and Scrine were considered as duplicates.

    Not sure I agree with that. Ferrier seems perfectly OK to me, although some may argue that Nother is now simply an Americanism, meaning ‘different other’, as in “That is a whole nother argument”.

    Perhaps I’ve lived in this grammatically challenged place for too long!

  10. Qaos says:

    Hi Gaufrid, many thanks for the post and to everyone else for their comments. Constructive criticism is always appreciated.

    First of all, I have to apologise for the puzzle not being completely sound, in that a couple of alternative solutions were discovered. I made a late change to 6dn and unfortunately missed that I’d introduced another element (IR) that could be transmuted. For 7dn, SCRINE was missing from my generated word list, perhaps because it’s an obsolete word.

    For the other suggested alternatives, I took that view that keeping to the main Chambers dictionary was fair. So FERRIER, BASSIA, etc could be safely excluded. Perhaps adding some extra clarification to the preamble would have helped.

    In hindsight, not having either the word play or definition part of the clue pointing to the transmuted word left a bit too much ambiguity for most people. I thought it would make for more of a challenge and would stop someone from solving the whole puzzle “cold”, e.g. from using the definitions only.


    In a first version of the puzzle, I tried to use each element just once, but this proved to be too much of a restriction. Also, as the puzzle was produced several months before, I breathed a sigh of relief when I saw the newly named elements in Nov/Dec didn’t ruin things!

  11. Gordon says:

    Hi Qaos
    I hope that you get to read this.
    Thanks for responding to one of the points that I had made, and not being upset at some of my criticism. I could not hope to do as good a job of compiling as you or other Guardian setters do.
    I did enjoy the crossword, despite my frustrations, and look forward to trying your next puzzle.
    Best wishes for 2012

  12. Helveticus says:

    Hi Qaos,
    Genius 102 was a nice puzzle, but I have a couple of small reservations. I don’t think 14a was entirely fair, since “starts to rebuke” must surely mean more than just the first letter (this would be “start to rebuke”); “initially rebuking” would have been been fair and would have given an acceptable surface reading. On 17d I think that the word “more” in the clue is superfluous/erroneous, since “becoming” means both “growing” and “beautiful”, but neither “becoming more” nor “more beautiful”. I hope you become a regular setter and look forward to your next puzzle.

    Best wishes for 2012,

  13. Tramp says:

    I really liked this. That grid must have taken some filling!

  14. fearsome says:

    As a chemist I should and really did enjoy this puzzle. I was driven mad by 3d (Hebetate) which took me days to solve. Looking forward to more interesting puzzles from Qaos.

  15. Thomas99 says:

    There seemed to be quite a lot of unhappiness from a few people about the multiple possibilities for some of the solutions. I didn’t really care; I just followed the instructions – which of course didn’t promise unique answers – and filled in all the answers I could, although I did actually change Ferrier (thinking of Kathleen, a perfectly sound answer in a normal Cryptic, I’d say), to Terrier, just because I preferred it and it’s such a classic crossword word. I do think proper nouns should be accepted – how could anyone have known they wouldn’t be? But over all I thought it was a very good puzzle, and just about right for the Genius slot.

    It is worth pointing out that we had exactly the same problem with Azed’s Printer’s Devilry (he decided to accept alternatives for at least 2 clues) a month or two ago and it didn’t seem to provoke so much indignation then. The root cause, or part of it, is I suppose the same – that both kinds of puzzle sever the connection between the definition (in the PD case there isn’t one) and the solution, so you lose one of the limiting factors.

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